The Jerry McGuire Syndrome

In the film Jerry McGuire the main character works for a very successful company.  One weekend he writes a manifesto on how the company could be better.  He discusses how customers should be treated.  He suggests improvements to processes and attitudes.  There is no question he is passionate about his work, and even more passionate about how work and life in general could be improved if processes, business attitudes and practices were more humane and open.  One weekend, Jerry distributes the manifesto document around the office for all to read.  When he arrives at work the following Monday he is applauded by his co-workers.  But upper management is more reserved in their response.  By noon he has been fired and is forced to start out on his own.  In my opinion the first ten minutes are the best ten minutes of the film.

We all carry a personal manifesto like Jerry McGuire’s around in us.  We bottle that manifesto up inside because we learn early in the business world that those who wish to improve their company from the bottom up are often labelled as heretics, made "manager of special projects" and sent to a quiet corner to work that is well away from the boardroom and the corporate ladder to success.  There may be some organizations where it would be possible to voice a contrary opinion to the views of the executive committee and continue to have career opportunities.  The organization Jerry McGuire worked for was not such an organization.   Neither are most organization.

For almost seven years I worked within a consulting organization.  In my second month I was on a project where I was directed to make a decision that would benefit the firm rather than benefit our customer.  A co-worker at the time said to me, "This is a reason to leave a company."  Imagine my feelings, "Leave?  I just got here."  A few months later the co-worker had resigned.  Over the years I watched literally hundreds people come and go from that firm.  Many of them left in disgust at the treatment of clients, consultants,  and business partners.  In that firm sooner or later we all wrote a Jerry McGuire manifesto and then moved on. 

I believe it was Abe Lincoln who said, "You can fool most of the
people some of the time.  You can fool some of the people all of the
time.  But, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time."  Yet
many organizations do try to fool all the people all the time.  This
illogical approach can extend to employees, clients and business

The reason I’m raising this is because I see it happening every day
around me.  People making representations about their firm and its
capabilities, about technology and its capabilities that are blatantly
false.  And we know they are false and yet we smile and say, "that’s
nice, uh-huh" and leave the meeting shaking our collective heads in

There are statistics around about the failure rate of technology
projects.  I think it’s something like technology projects fail 70-80%
of the time.  Some of this can be atributed to the newness of
technology and how we’re always on the bleeding edge.  The inherent
risks of being "out there" dictate that failure rates should be high.

But a lot of these failures can be blamed on consultants that are
too zealous and users who are too timid.  This combination is deadly.
And when all is said and done, the consultants move on to another
client and the user is left to blame the consultant who, "never
understood our business anyway.."  and sold us a bill of goods.

Wait!, I know…  We could build a consulting organization that
works with customers to acheive the customers goals.  We could be a
consulting organization that doesn’t have a hidden agenda to grow our
business on the backs of our clients.  We could be a consulting
organization who’s honest enough to tell our clients when they don’t
need our services until they have reached some stage of readiness. And
attaining that stage of readiness requires them to walk alone for a
while, without our help.  We could… NAH!, it would never work.

When I was a kid my parents taught me, when you try to fool someone the only person you’re really fooling is yourself. 

Next time you find yourself in one of THOSE meetings ask yourself – Who’s fooling Whom?

  1. Jim Reply

    Excellent post. Great lead line.
    My dream is to have the courage to say the king has no clothes on. So many things are so obviously wrong and yet we just truck along.
    I recently had a very heated discussion about how teachers unions are creating a mediocre education system. I was saying it is not just the union but the system which treats people as categories and does not or cannot measure performance is the culprit. One of the other people said the only real defense is to leave. I think he really was right but that does not improve the education system.
    Maybe more protection and respect for whistle blowers would help improve the system.

  2. Stephen Reply

    “You had me at Hello” – my favorite line about knowing how to read the situation and when to stop selling.
    A great post. It is hard to see past the hype sometimes and that is why I refer to this stuff as the dog food. Sadly we all get caught serving and then eating it at one time or another – the Dot Com days were telling examples of this and here we are in web 2.0.
    I think you and I have both been there and wait a second we started Project X. I think you did a good job of explaining some of the things in our manifesto and wait a second, yes we are. At least I hope so.
    So as my son’s favorite character would put it…
    “Can we fix it?”
    “Yes we can!”

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